So, four matches, four wins for the favourites, and none of the underdogs have managed a goal yet. Euro 2008 is still waiting to come to life. In one respect at least, this is no bad thing. There had been fears of serious crowd trouble in the small town of Klagenfurt – the smallest town ever to host a European Championship finals match, and a peculiar choice for a potentially tense match between two rivals such as Germany and Poland. As things have turned out, though, there has been no major trouble there apart from a scuffle last night that ended up in seven arrests. However, it is more of a concern on the pitch, where four matches have carefully and assiduously followed the script. The Swiss and the Austrians gave it a good go and Turkey showed some resilience against Portugal, but this Polish side didn’t show too much to indicate that they are going to be anything other than cannon fodder for the Croatians.
On the pitch, then, tonight’s match was proof (as if we needed such a thing) that Germany have lifted themselves out of the torpor that has characterised their recent performances in the finals of the European Championships. Prior to this evening they hadn’t won a finals match since the final match of Euro 96 twelve years ago, but the result was seldom in doubt after Lucas Podolski gave them the lead with a tap in after twenty minutes. Artur Boruc made one outstanding save from a Michael Ballack shot, but Germany were swarming all over the Poles, even if their second goal required a little bit of luck when Klose’s hopelessy miscued shot fell straight into the path of Podolski, who volleyed a second German goal with just under twenty minutes still to play. Quite what would have been going through Podolski’s (who is Polish by birth) head, and any hopes that any of the watching neutrals may have had that the match would face an interesting climax after a late Polish goal had their hopes dashed when Jens Lehmann effectively (if unorthodoxly) blocked Marek Saganowski’s header.
The victory was, of course, no less than the German team deserved and, this morning, you could hear the news stands of England groaning under the cliches of the press, who appear to be struggling much to find to say about this tournament of any interest. Expect your daily paper to make liberal use of the phrases “ominous”, “ruthlessly efficient” and “easing their way into the quarter-finals”. The striking thing about this tournament is how little and how much there has been between the teams that have played so far. Germany were clearly much stronger than Poland last night, but they allowed themselves to cede a lot of space in the centre of the pitch and a lot of possession, too. Ultimately, Poland failed to capitalise upon this because of a lack of quality. Every time they found themselves in a position from which they could have made something, either the final ball or the finish were missing. Germany may well face a stiffer test against a Croatian team that knows that a result against them would bring almost certain qualification, whilst Poland now have un uphill battle to get through with two matches yet to play. Tonight, the Group Of Death starts in earnest, with France playing Romania and Holland facing up to Italy. We should keep our fingers crossed that Euro 2008 stops following the form book soon, before it starts to look like it’s going stale.